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A mum has told of her devastation after her daughter died just months after her 21st birthday following the discovery of what she believed to be an insect bite.
Jenna Patel was enjoying life to the full and preparing to become a primary school teacher when she found what she believed to be an insect bite on her shoulder. But just four months after her 21st birthday, she died of an aggressive form of cancer.
Jenna was in the middle of her studies when she spotted a lump on her shoulder after gardening with her mum and brother in spring 2021. She assumed it was an insect bite, but to be on the safe side visited the GP to get the lump checked out.
The GP assumed the lump was a cyst, reports the Manchester Evening News, but sent Jenna for an ultrasound which proved inconclusive. Jenna was placed on a waiting list for an MRI and continued to enjoy her work placement at Devonshire Primary School in Bolton.
Meanwhile, the lump on her shoulder continued to grow very quickly. Jenna was sent for tests at The Manchester Royal Infirmary in July.
As Jenna and mum Priti sat in the corridor looking at posters about sarcomas, they both suddenly realised she might have cancer. At the same time as Jenna was diagnosed as having a rare cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma, her dad Manish was just up the road at The Christie hospital receiving treatment for lung cancer.
Jenna was referred to The Christie and placed on an immediate course of chemotherapy which involved daily treatment and coming home in the evening with the chemotherapy drugs attached to her. Manish was going through chemotherapy at the same time as his daughter.
As she was making such good progress throughout the autumn, doctors told Jenna she would be in full recovery by the following March and she assumed she would be back at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk to complete her final year of studies the following October.
Tragically, once Jenna stopped chemotherapy and was due to have a break in treatment before starting radiotherapy, the tumour once again grew very aggressively. She had more scans and plans for radiotherapy needed to be scrapped. She was referred to the specialist Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and underwent surgery just weeks before Christmas to remove the tumour. Brave Jenna was warned she might lose her arm depending on the size of the tumour.
The surgery went well. But the tumour which was removed was much bigger than anyone had expected. As Jenna prepared for her 21st birthday early last year, she began to experience breathing difficulties and was sent for yet more scans. Devastatingly, the scans revealed the cancer had spread and was now in her lungs.
Despite such bad news, as always, Jenna kept smiling and enjoyed her special birthday. As she was still recovering from such major surgery, chemotherapy needed to be delayed.
Jenna then faced a repeated pattern of chemotherapy seeming to work initially, but that was followed by it becoming ineffective each time until by April last year, she and her family were given the news that her cancer was terminal and there were no more treatment options.
She planned her entire funeral insisting mourners weren’t allowed to be sad or wear black and even asked for Stormzy to be played. Jenna also wanted her friends and family to enjoy a party afterwards and remember the happiness they had shared with her.
Jenna died at home on May 13, 2022.
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Her family are now backing a Cancer Research UK campaign to help give hope to future generations this World Cancer Day (Saturday, February 4). Jenna’s mum Priti, her dad Manish and younger brother Liam are urging people across the North West to give regularly to the charity to help fund long term research projects that could drive new breakthroughs.
Life-saving cancer treatments are made possible by months and months of trialling, testing and learning. But monthly progress in research needs monthly donations.
Her brother Liam, aged 18, will be sitting A levels this summer and hopes to study Biomedical Research at university after Jenna urged him to make a difference for people like her. Manish, aged 52, who works for Canon, continues to receive monthly cancer treatment.
The family are keen to keep Jenna’s memory alive and have been busy fundraising for cancer charities, including raising more than £6000 for Cancer Research UK after taking part in the night-time Shine walk in Manchester last autumn.
Priti, 49, said: “Throughout absolutely everything, Jenna never ever stopped smiling and that’s what people always think of, her beautiful smile. When we were told she had cancer, I felt numb. The news was too much to take in knowing that her dad was only a few miles up the road also going through cancer treatment.
“Jenna remained so positive and determined that she inspired us all. Her death has left a huge hole in our lives and we miss her very deeply. But she wanted Liam to have an amazing career and go into medical research to make a difference. And we want to keep her memory alive to help others and raise as much money as we can to get rid of such a horrible disease.”
Around 43,600 people were diagnosed with cancer in the North West last year, but progress in research has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
Cancer Research UK research has led to more than 50 cancer drugs used across the UK – and around the world – from widely used chemotherapies to new-generation precision treatments. Drugs linked to the charity are used to treat more than 125,000 patients in the UK every year – that’s 3 out of every 4 patients who receive cancer drugs on the NHS.
Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North West, Jane Bullock, said: “This World Cancer Day, we want to say a heartfelt thank you to amazing supporters like Priti, Liam and Manish. Their generosity of heart in fundraising and bravely sharing Jenna’s story is incredible. Regular giving is crucial to our work, because it means we can fund long term research – research that could lead to new discoveries about cancer and unlock new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat it.
“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime, but all of us can help beat it. So, we hope more people across the North West will donate monthly – if they can. We’re working towards a world where we can all live longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.”
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